"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Book Clipping of the Day

How can I not love any painter who has gone down in history as the “Raphael of Cats?” This brief biography of Gottfried Mind, a Crazy Cat Man after my own heart, comes from Champfleury's "The Cat, Past and Present." (1885):

Mind was born at Berne in 1768; his fatter was of Hungarian origin. He studied drawing with Freudenberger, a painter who occupies only a small place in the history of art. "A special taste," says M. Depping,"led Mind to draw animals, or rather two kinds of animals, bears and cats. The latter especially were his favourite subjects, he delighted in painting them in all sorts of attitudes, singly or in groups, with truth and naturalness which have never been surpassed. His pictures were, one might almost say, cat-portraits; he gave every shade of expression to their soft and cunning faces; he lent infinite variety to the graceful attitudes of kittens playing with their mother; he depicted the silky coat of the cat perfectly; in short, the cats that were painted by Mind seemed to be alive. Mdme. Lebrun, who never failed to purchase some of this painter's works on each of her visits to Switzerland, called him "the Raphael of Cats." Several royal personages, travelling in his country, desired to purchase Mind's cats, which were carefully preserved in portfolios by Swiss amateurs, and others.

The painter and his cats were inseparable; while he worked his favourite she-cat was almost always by his side, and he carried on a sort of conversation with her. Sometimes she would sit on his knees; two or three kittens would be perched on his shoulders; and he would remain in this attitude for hours without stirring, lest he should disturb the companions of his solitude. He was not by any means so considerate towards visitors of the human species, whom he received with undisguised ill-humour. 

Mind probably never in his whole life experienced more profound grief than that which was caused by the general massacre of cats by the police of Berne, in 1809. This severe measure was dictated by terror; an epidemic of madness having broken out among the cats. He contrived to save his dear Minette by hiding her, but his sorrow for the death of the eight hundred cats that were sacrificed to the public safety was overwhelming: he never was entirely consoled. It gave him great pleasure to examine pictures or drawings which represented animals. Woe to the painters who had not represented his favourite species with perfect fidelity! They obtained no favour from him, let their talent in any other direction be ever so great. During the winter evenings he still contrived to occupy himself with his beloved animals by cutting out cats and bears in chestnuts. The pretty trifles, which were executed with marvellous skill, had a great sale.

Mind was a short man, with a big head, very deep set eyes, a reddish-brown complexion, a hollow voice, and a sort of rattle in his throat, which, added to his gloomy expression, produced a repulsive effect on those who saw him for the first time. He died at Berne, on the 8th November, 1814. The lines of Catullus on the death of Lydia's sparrow were cleverly parodied and applied to him:— 
Lugete, o feles, ursique lugete,
Mortuus est vobis amicus; 
also another line by an ancient poet:— 
Felibus atque ursis flebilis occidit.

[Note: Google translates this Latin--no doubt very roughly--as "Mourn, all you cats, bears mourn, He is dead to you, friend; Cats and bears lament."

Modern historians usually refer to Mind as autistic, or even mentally disabled, but my guess is he was simply a genuine misanthrope who preferred cats to people. I am the last person in the world to hold that against him.]


  1. What a talented man. The shimmer of the fur can almost be felt.

    1. I've been an admirer of his work for years. There's a charm and gentleness about his cats that I just love.


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